The ongoing series between India and the West Indies
has to be one of the direst involving two major
cricketing powers, in recent memory.
There is still time for it to be rescued from the
doldrums with the fourth, and mercifully, final Test
beginning in Kingston, Jamaica on Friday.
Truth to tell, the players on both sides are not
entirely to blame. As I mentioned in last weeks
column, the World Cup football being played
simultaneously in Germany has taken much of the gloss
off the cricket, even for Indian fans back home who
are doubly handicapped by the time difference between
India and the Caribbean.
The scheduling is also all wrong and Lara's recent statements confirmed what I have said in my column last week. Till a couple of
years back it was unheard of to play cricket in that
part of the world in May/June, the wettest months. Now
with the packed international calendar making a
mockery of traditional seasonsinternational cricket
being played in India in late April being another
crazy examplethe ideal months of March/April in the
West Indies (when the World Cup is to be staged next
year) is being stretched to ridiculous lengths.
Frankly, the standard of cricket on display, with a
couple of exceptions, has been sub-standard. India
have not won a major series outside of Asia for 20
years and it shows. Even against probably the weakest
West Indies team of all time, they have not been able
to ram home the advantage.
This was painfully evident in the first Test when the
Windies tail held out for a draw with the last pair
hanging on for 19 deliveries. The debate over the
composition and number of bowlers (four or five?) in
the Indian XI started from then and has continued
right through the series. The continuous sniping back
home by former India greats with axes to grind has
only made things worse for the team.
The biggest plus-point in the series from the Indian
point of view has been the success of Wasim Jaffer and
Virender Sehwag at the top of the order. The jury
still out on the trio of rookie pace bowlers.
But the drastic and inexplicable loss of form suffered
by Irfan Pathan has set the whole team effort back. He
was a vital cog in the set-up till just a few months
back and was rapidly assuming the role of an
all-rounder. Whether Pathan is suffering from a
technical or psychological deficiency is something the
Indian think-tank will have to figure out and fast.
With rain affecting every Test match, it is fair to
say that India would have won the first two without
the weather interruptions and West Indies the third if
the rain had not intervened at vital stages.
Back in 2002 when Windies cricket was also at a low,
the inability of captain Sourav Ganguly to escape
defeat really rankled.
Considering the paucity of talent at his disposal, it
is not all that surprising that Lara has adopted a
safety-first attitude. Dravid must pounce on the
negative mind-set of his counterpart. Kingston
provides the final opportunity for the Indians to make
amends for 2002.